ARIA SAVVY: Expanding Your Audition Repertoire III

Most audition judges are eager to hear any singer whose repertoire choices show some musical curiosity and a sense of adventure. Why choose only the “standard” five arias in your Fach for one audition after another? There’s so much repertoire out there waiting for you! OK, your “list of five” shouldn’t all be arias found off the beaten track, but one or two would certainly be welcomed by those auditioning you. “Aria Savvy” will present two arias per column, introducing you to music that will invigorate you musically while providing a refreshing change for your listeners.


Christoph Willibald Gluck, Iphigénie en Tauride, Act IV, “Non, cet affreux devoir…Je t’implore et je tremble” (Iphigénie)

Opera houses invariably differ on how to cast the heroine of Iphigénie en Tauride. If you check out the artists who have successfully sung this role onstage in the past three or four decades, you’ll see both sopranos and mezzos — and every kind of singer within those two categories. This must surely be the only role that has been sung by interpreters of Donna Anna, Tosca, Octavian, Didon, Senta, and Violetta! My feeling is that when the going gets tough in Iphigénie’s music (which happens frequently), the tessitura sits most comfortably in a soprano poised between “full lyric” and spinto. The instrument should offer consistent tonal warmth and depth through the role’s entire range.

Iphigénie is a priestess of the goddess Diane (Artemis) on the island of Tauris. Thoas, king of Scythia, informs her that a sacrifice to the gods is required to appease them. When two strangers, Pylade and Oreste, arrive on shore, Thoas insists that one of them be sacrificed. When Oreste sees Iphigénie, neither of them recognizes the other as their sibling, but she is struck by his resemblance to her brother. Oreste insists on being the sacrificial victim rather than Pylade, who leaves the island, hoping to return soon with forces who can rescue his friend. Ordered by Thoas to sacrifice Oreste (whom she still has not recognized), Iphigénie, in the opening of the opera’s last act, prays desperately to Diane to give her the fortitude to do what must be done.

Iphigénie’s anguished state of mind must be established from the start in the brief recitative, but always kept within the confines of the Classical style (no veristic emoting allowed, in other words). In the aria, the singer’s challenge is to maintain tonal substance and strength in the upper-middle while communicating the agitation of the moment that emerges so strongly through Gluck’s music. Eloquent textual delivery is the be-all/end-all in Gluck, and so is absolutely clean movement from note to note — in this case, including pinpoint accuracy in the many wide intervals (including from low F# to high G#). With Gluck giving you nothing in the way of expressive markings, it’s up to you to create your own dynamic variety. Don’t let the aria degenerate into a loud rant, as can happen when the singer portraying Iphigénie allows her emotional involvement to take over the vocalism.

Timing: 4:10

Score published by: Bärenreiter

Listen to: Carol Vaness






Modest Mussorgsky, Boris Godunov, Prologue, “Pravaslavniye!” (Tchelkalov)

There are numerous operatic roles that, although quite brief, require a substantial, memorable instrument. The music assigned to such roles often presents a moment in which all eyes and ears onstage are riveted to that character; therefore, distinctive stage presence is also required. One of those roles is Mussorgsky’s Tchelkalov, whose aria represents something of a still point within the dramatic opening scene  of Boris Godunov.

Outside Moscow’s Novodievichy monastery, Muscovites have gathered and are ordered by a police officer to pray. Their prayers are interrupted by the appearance of Tchelkalov, secretary of the State Council, who emerges from the monastery. He addresses the crowd, sadly informing them that Boris has not yielded to the entreaties of the Council and will not accept the throne of Russia. Noting the current sorry state of the country, Tchelkalov urges the people to pray to God to bring light to Boris’s weary soul.

Before he sings a note, Tchelkalov must communicate exceptional dignity during the five quiet bars of instrumental introduction. The aria’s range is comparatively limited and the vocal line essentially declarative, while the tempo remains a stately moderato 4/4. In such solemn music, the danger, of course, is to let your delivery turn lugubrious, but you can avoid that by bringing a wealth of expressive eloquence to your phrasing. It’s also vital to exhibit tonal reserves and ringing sound at middle C, D, and E, where much of this music is centered. The role cries out for a beautiful voice, pure and simple – a warm-timbred, firmly focused sound that instantly draws the listener to it. 

Timing: 2:50

Score published by: Breitkopf & Härtel

Transliterated libretto:

Listen to: Alexey Markov


Roger Pines

Roger Pines, dramaturg of Lyric Opera of Chicago, has adjudicated for major vocal competitions for the past three decades. He also currently teaches the opera repertoire course at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music.